International Traffic Light Day

Often viewed as inconvenient, it’s easy to overlook the immense value of traffic lights. On August 5th take a moment to appreciate their role in road safety.

Let’s take a brief trip back in time — The year is 1914. You’re just coming to grips with the loss of the Titanic two years earlier, but at the same time you’re stoked because the Indianapolis 500 is becoming an annual tradition, and Ford’s Model T is ramping up production from 7 cars per hour to 146 cars per hour. The automobile is fast becoming an integral part of American society.

Urban streets are filled with a disorderly blend of early automobiles, streetcars, horse carriages, merchant carts, off balance fellas exiting saloons like Doc Holiday (we imagine), and an occasional penny-farthing rolling through just to keep things interesting. (You know, those old school big wheel bikes that look mega hazardous — we didn’t name them…)

The Model T’s top speed is about 45 mph, and you can bet your bottom dollar that dudes were testing it. Braking distance required from that speed? Equipped with 3.5″ wide tires and brakes that might be considered insufficient on a modern go-kart, some estimate about 190′, or approximately 12 modern car lengths. But hey, there aren’t really any legal requirements to stop anywhere anyways. Yikes. (Context: The latest Corvette Stingray stops from 60 mph in 90′.)

On back to back days in August two efforts to spare American lives are made — one lasted, the other — unfortunately, not so much…

On August 4th the U.S. declared neutrality in World War 1.

On August 5th the first electric traffic light is installed on the corner of East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s operated by an adjacent manned booth, includes red and green lights, and an audible warning buzzer that signals a pending change.

The Cleveland Automobile Club speculated at the time that the signal would be “…perhaps, destined to revolutionize the handling of traffic in congested city streets and should be seriously considered by traffic committees for general adoption.”

Good call.

Since 1914, untold millions of lives have been saved by traffic lights. Often viewed as inconvenient, it’s easy to overlook their immense value and necessity. On August 5th take a moment to appreciate the traffic light’s role in road safety.

Spare a thought for the penny-farthing too, maybe.


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